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Last updated: 08 May 2006 1138 BST
Pic: Mark Lawrik-Thompson
Grap: Explore Mars with our astronomy expert
Norfolk astronomer and Chairman of the Norwich Astronomical Society Mark Thompson writes about the red planet, Mars.
Picture: Planet Mars
Planet Mars is red because it's covered in iron oxide

Why is Mars red and is there any life on the planet?

Find out more with our kids' guide to astronomy by local astronomer Mark Thompson.

Mars is the fourth planet away from the Sun and is about half the size of our planet Earth.

For many years, we used to think there might be life on Mars.

This came from astronomers who looked at the planet through really simple telescopes. They thought they could see dark lines all over the surface of the planet.

This made them think that the dark lines were actually huge alien-made rivers to carry water from the frozen north and south pole of the planet to the drier areas.

But since then, we have found that the telescopes they were using were so bad that the lines really weren't there and were just a trick of the eye.

Picture: Volcano Mons
Volcano Olympus Mons on Mars

We are now sure there is no intelligent life on Mars, but who knows, there may be really simple forms of life, maybe even simpler than the bacteria on the Earth.

Maybe one day, one of you will be the scientist who discovers life on Mars or somewhere else in space!

Why is Mars red?

Mars is red because it's covered in something called iron oxide. This is the proper name for rust. If you leave any metal object outside in the rain, the iron in the metal and the oxygen in the rain water join up to make iron oxide which we know as rust.

The surface of Mars is covered in the same sort of material giving it its red colour.

One other really amazing thing about Mars is that it's got the biggest known volcano in the Solar System.

This volcano is called Olympus Mons. It's so big that it would tower above the biggest volcanoes on the Earth.

It hasn't erupted for many thousands of years but if it ever does erupt we'll get a fantastic view from the Earth.

Got a question about Mars? Ask our astronomy expert, Mark »


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See also

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Astronomy index

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International Space Station

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Make a sundial

New Planet

Planet Jupiter

Planet Mars

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Planets Pluto, Neptune and Uranus

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The Star of Bethlehem

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Your questions answered

Venus passes in front of the Sun


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